Injuries, inexperience and off-field issues all contributed to the New England Patriots getting only inconsistent production out of its wide receiver position throughout the 2019 season — issues that are essentially going all the way back to the previous year. Entering 2020, the wideout spot is therefore again rather high up on the Patriots’ list of needs especially after a relatively inactive free agency period.
The current core of former first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry and Julian Edelman is supported by veterans (Mohamed Sanu, Damiere Byrd), players entering their second year in the system (Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski) and former practice squad players (Quincy Adeboyejo, Devin Ross). Adding more athleticism and upside to the table therefore is imperative, but luckily for New England this year’s draft is considered deep at wide receiver.
One potential mid-round option that might be attractive for the Patriots is Chase Claypool out of Notre Dame. Let’s take a closer look at him.
Name: Chase Claypool
Position: Wide receiver
School: Notre Dame (senior)
Opening day age: 22
2019 stats: 13 games; 726 snaps; 108 targets, 66 receptions (7 drops); 1,037 receiving yards; 13 receiving touchdowns
Size: 6042, 238 lbs, 9.88 hand size, 32.5 arm length
Workout numbers: 4.42 40-yard dash, 40.5 vertical jump, 1006 broad jump, 19 bench press
Expected round: 3rd
Strengths: There is no way to say it any differently: Claypool is an athletic freak. Measured at 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds at the scouting combine, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds and also measured well in the vertical and broad jumps and on the bench press. His blend of size and moving abilities makes him one of the most intriguing wide receiver prospects in this year’s draft — you cannot teach what he brings to the table from an athletic perspective — and gives him a high ceiling.
Claypool’s size and catch radius are outstanding and he is as good as any pass catcher in this year’s draft when it comes to adjusting to off-target throws: his hand-eye coordination is very good and his body control in the air is impressive. He also knows how to use his frame on jump-balls. Furthermore, he possesses the straight-line speed to challenge defenses deep while still being able to do damage on all three levels and break tackles when working in the short or intermediate areas of the field.
Claypool also plays the position with a physical edge: he is a good blocker in the running game and capable of holding his leverage when running side-to-side against cornerbacks. On top of it all, he also is a proven special teams player that has had a lot of success as a coverage defender for the Fighting Irish.
Weaknesses: As outstanding as his athletic profile is, not every aspect of it can be considered elite. Claypool is neither the quickest nor the most elusive wide receiver, after all, and wins more with his superior size and catch radius than his short-area moving skills or his technique. His route running reflects this: he is not the most polished player in this area and only a limited threat to succeed on routes that force him to make jump-cuts to put him in a favorable position against defensive backs.
Claypool’s rawness also extends to his ability to hold his own when facing press-man coverage. While he excelled when being allowed free releases, his somewhat stiff lower half and build-up to full speed might make life difficult for him when going against NFL-caliber defensive backs that will engage immediately after the snap and challenge him throughout his route. Along those lines he also needs to learn to use his hands better to not unnecessarily engage — and risk penalties — at the top of his routes.
Furthermore, Claypool has had some issues with drops during his college career. He had seven of them in 2019, mostly due to concentration issues. This is something that can be worked at but it still is part of a comparatively long list of things that need to be addressed.
What would be his role? Given his impressive combination of size and athleticism, Claypool projects to serve primarily as a perimeter receiver at the next level: he will likely see most of his action as an X-receiver — a role he also played in Notre Dame’s pro-style spread attack — or maybe even a big slot option. As such, he would likely be the Patriots’ second outside target behind former first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry and allow Julian Edelman as well as Mohamed Sanu and Jakobi Meyers to play more inside the formation.
How many downs can he play? Given that Claypool needs additional development in terms of his route running and ability to win one-on-one situations with his technique rather than his physicality, it might be best for him to start his career as more of a situational pass catcher: he would likely see the field as a rotational third/fourth option primarily on third downs and in the red zone. He could become a four-down contributor further down the line, though.
What is his special teams value? Claypool is a proven contributor in the kicking game, with an 11-tackle freshman season in 2016 and a fumble recovery on punt coverage during his 2019 senior campaign as his individual special teams highlights. Needless to say that he should be able to leave his mark in the game’s third phase upon his arrival in the NFL. The Patriots would likely use him on punt and kickoff coverage right away.
Does he have positional versatility? Notre Dame used him primarily on the outside of the formation, but Claypool’s skillset makes him an option to be employed all over the formation as a matchup-specific chess piece. As noted above, he could see action as an X-receiver or a big slot — similar to Mohamed Sanu — or even see some reps in a move tight end role in case he adds to his frame. Either way, Claypool will likely be more than just a one-trick pony upon arriving in the NFL.
Will his role change from Year One to Year Two? The more experience he gets in the Patriots’ system, and the more polished his route running and overall technique get, the more his usage will expand — a development likely to happen between Years One and Two. It would therefore not be a surprise to see Claypool grow into the number three role at the wide receiver position by 2021 alongside N’Keal Harry Harry and Julian Edelman.
Which current Patriots will he have to beat out? Claypool would be guaranteed a roster spot due to his draft status — he may come off the board as early as the second round — but his playing time would likely depend on his eventual role and how he performs during his first summer as a pro. His main competition along the way would be veteran Mohamed Sanu, second-year man Jakobi Meyers and former practice squad option Quincy Adeboyejo who all are projected to play similar roles in 2020. They could therefore take playing time away from the rookie with better training camp and preseason performances.
Why the Patriots? New England’s pass catching corps struggled throughout the 2019 season even with future Hall of Famer Tom Brady under center. One of the biggest issues was a lack of dynamic playmakers, something Claypool would offer: his combination of size and speed makes him a high-upside wide receiver that could help take some pressure off second-year man N’Keal Harry. While he needs considerable refinement, the Notre Dame product has a high ceiling and is a player that could function well if used in a versatile move role or as a perimeter and deep-field target.
Why not the Patriots? Even with a new quarterback running the show, the core principles of New England’s offensive attack are not expected to change: precision and an ability to read and react to defenses will still be at the heart of the team’s passing game. While Claypool certainly should be able to adapt to this style of offense, the Patriots could prefer investing in more polished receiver help on Day Two of the draft. Furthermore, they may opt to rather target the tight end position than a wide receiver group that has plenty of bodies competing for roles at the moment.
Verdict: Claypool’s athletic skillset is certainly enticing and makes him a high-upside option that could have a tremendous impact at the next level. That said, there is no denying that the 21-year-old is a raw prospect and needs some considerable work before he can be considered an every-down receiver versus NFL competition. If the Patriots feel good about his outlook and ability to clean up his releases when going against press-man coverage, though, spending a third-round pick on him would likely not be the worst of investments — Claypool would help address a need and give the team and its new passer an immensely talented player to work with.